Monday, December 28, 2020

Blues smartly using cap space relief, shouldn't be scrutinized for it

Blues wanted Hoffman, Hoffman wanted the Blues, 
a perfect match will be consummated as a result


Commentary by LOU KORAC
In an unprecedented year in which a global pandemic has altered everyone's lives, Blues fans have spent the past 24 hours suddenly stoked about 2021.

Not that they weren't before, but the seismograph shook with good reason on Sunday night. 
Mike Hoffman

With the Blues announcing that they're bringing in 31-year-old unrestricted free agent sniper forward Mike Hoffman on a professional tryout contract to get his feet -- or skates -- wet with the team heading into the opening of training camp on Jan. 3, the intentions are quite simple: to sign Mike Hoffman, who will in turn be a member of the St. Louis Blues this season.

The Blues can call it what they want, and we all understand nothing's official until it is in fact official, but for all intents and purposes, Hoffman's PTO is a precursor of what's to come, and Hoffman will join the Blues on what is believed to be a one-year contract in the neighborhood of $4 million, give or take, and will give this team another offensive weapon among their crop of top six forwards.

I think it's a terrific move by general manager Doug Armstrong simply because he's identified a player the team can use as a complementary piece, and not to say the Blues are void of scoring, because we saw just how rounded they were scoring last season with Vladimir Tarasenko missing all but 10 games last season in averaging 3.17 goals per game, but when you can add the caliber of goal scorer of a Mike Hoffman to your lineup, you have to take a shot at it, even if the salary cap situation is predictably dicey, and there's still the business of signing restricted free agent defenseman Vince Dunn to tighten the screws even more.

However, the Blues got a huge break when Alexander Steen announced his retirement from the NHL after 15 seasons, thus freeing up his $5.75 million cap hit. And let's face it, without Steen's basically forced exit from the game because of a lingering back issue that has not healed properly, this situation would not even be on the table, and with the Blues putting Tarasenko (shoulder) on long-term injured reserve along with Steen, it will free up $13.25 million in cap space at the Blues' disposal even though they'll have to account for Tarasenko's $7.5 million when he comes back from shoulder surgery in mid-February when he's re-evaluated, at the earliest.

Needless to say, Blues fans are stoked about the latest developments, and with good reason, but other hockey fans around the league feel as if the Blues are circumventing the cap of $81.5 million. 

To which I say: how? 

Why should a team be penalized in cap space when a player, unfortunately, isn't able to fulfill a contract because of injury that in this situation, and has forced said player to retire? The Blues were fully intending on having Steen back for what would have likely been his final season in St. Louis anyway, at least at that price tag, but can't because of injury. Teams shouldn't be punished for this, and it was written in this way in the latest collective bargaining agreement. Every team knows this and has it at their disposal and are fully aware of what's at their disposal if a situation like this arises. 

So if fans feel this isn't right, take it up with your favorite team, and ask them collectively to alter the language because as it's written, the Blues didn't circumvent anything. 

The Blues are doing what's allowable, and that involves playing by the rules. They wait for when they have to be cap-compliant, which is the start of the regular season, they put the aforementioned two players on LTIR and use the available space to sign Hoffman. It's allowed, and they have every right to utilize it.

Look at it from a different perspective: if Connor McDavid injures himself in camp or in any situation and somehow can't play for the Edmonton Oilers this season, why should they be penalized with a $12.5 million cap hit? The Oilers should be able to use that cap relief should they choose to do so. Nikita Kucherov is injured and will miss the regular season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they should be given $9.5 million cap space relief for it if needed. That's why the rule is there. 

The Blues have two players that are out on long-term injuries and shouldn't be punished for it, plain and simple. I don't get the vitriol from the outside world on this.

Yes, it is a strange situation that a player of this caliber is going the route of a PTO, but what's not been strange about 2020? In a normal world, Hoffman would have been gobbled up as soon as the clock struck 11 a.m. (CT) or any time after on July 1 and would have been given a lucrative contract. Players that average 28.1 goals per season the past six seasons don't grow on trees, and they don't stay on the market very long. He's one of 13 current players to score 20 or more goals in the league. The guy has a knack for the net, and the Blues will benefit from it.

Now let's get to another peeve I had from last night, and it's the ones that were wondering why would they bring someone that could be disruptive into the locker room. And I have no clue where this is coming from.

My answer to this is don't you think the Blues did their homework on this? Do you really think they're going to bring somebody into the fold that would be dubbed a "locker room cancer?" I can remember when people questioned the time when fans felt that the Blues' locker room was divided with a Steen group and an Alex Pietrangelo group. I found that to be unfounded at the time, and I think it all turned out for the best in 2019, didn't it? 

I'm fully aware of the Hoffman-Erik Karlsson situation stemming from their time in Ottawa that came to light in 2018, and yes, there were some ugly and terrible accusations slung around during that unfortunate time, and I'm sure the Blues broached this subject with Hoffman and his camp. And I can guarantee that the Blues make very clear to anyone that is interested to come to St. Louis or vice versa, the culture that has been built here and the team-first mentality is the highest priority. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

And lastly, it's understandable to ask why would Hoffman go this route. I found it to be a calculated risk on his part at the time, but Hoffman and his agent, Robert Hooper, were patient in allowing the market to dictate itself, even if it meant taking it to the waning days leading into camp. And it worked.

As a UFA, Hoffman could have picked any of the 31 teams that had interest in his services, and from what I was told, it was a high number that were really interested but don't have the cap space to fit him in. 

Even knowing the Blues are currently $1,175,515 over the cap limit according to when the situation presented itself that they would have room to fit the caliber of a Mike Hoffman into their lineup, the marriage consummated itself. The Blues wanted Mike Hoffman, Mike Hoffman wanted the Blues. End of story.

There's a fit and a need for him in the top-six here, even when Tarasenko returns, a guy that can be a power-play catalyst who scored 58 man-advantage goals the past five seasons, 49 in the past four. 

It's evident Hoffman can play on the offensive side of the puck, but there's the question of his two-way play. I know a simple fix to that: play him with Ryan O'Reilly. Don't you think the new captain will draw Hoffman into the battle on both sides of the ice? Look what O'Reilly has done for David Perron, and look at what those two have done with Zach Sanford as linemates. Or perhaps you don't think playing with a Jaden Schwartz and a Brayden Schenn won't rub off on Hoffman when they see how his linemates would skate through a brick wall to free up ice for him?

And you think Hoffman wouldn't be motivated playing for Craig Berube, who has some good problems on his hands now in making out a lineup every game? 

I think Hoffman sees the culture, structure and system instilled here and that's why he chose the Blues. It's not only a talented team but one that's built to win.

Hoffman's had a nice career, 359 points (172 goals, 187 assists) in seven full seasons. But the resume only shows 29 Stanley Cup Playoff games (19 in one season when the Senators reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2017) and one ultimate void: a championship. He knows the vast majority of this group raised Lord Stanley's Cup less than two years ago, and putting himself in the puzzle could help him get there for the first time, and his teammates a second time.

There are no guarantees of anything, because the Stanley Cup is so hard to win. And the West Division will be formidable, with Colorado and Vegas striving for similar goals, but even in a shortened 56-game season, Armstrong has his poker face back on, and the Blues' GM has made it clear that he's all in. So is Hoffman, because he's chosen what he believes is his best path to a Stanley Cup.

Colorado and Vegas may be considered favorites in the division outside of St. Louis, but I believe the Blues were already there and have enhanced their chances even more, and after how things unfolded during last season's playoffs, this group will be more motivated than ever, and pulling a new teammate along for the ride.



  1. Tell us what you think of recent Tarasenko's comments about not being chosen a captain (if you pretend to understand Russian, of course)?

    1. I don't think it's a big deal. He's disappointed. Big deal. I think some people are reading too much into it. That's his competitive nature. If he didn't care, then I'd be worried if I was a fan. He speaks about a lot of things, like being determined to overcome shoulder injury and come back strong, wanting to prove people wrong that say he won't be the same. I appreciated what he said about his grandfather. There's more to it than just being disappointed about not being named captain.

    2. OK. Also, one thing that bothers me - how was it possible for him to be interviewed by the Russian media, and for you guys he's not made available during the injury? Different set of rules? Or, he even didn't notify the club about that interview?

    3. My guess is he did it on his own, but I can't confirm that. And the Blues don't allow media to speak to injured players.

  2. I read the article (in Russian) and it comes off as honest disappointment that he wasn't chosen. He also made it a point to include the fact that Schwartz has as much seniority as he does, implying that he thought the Captaincy would go to one of them out of seniority. The only thing unique about it is that he openly admitted it to the press. Hard to imagine almost every player in that position feels the same way when they don't get the C.